From The Hill To The Attic, Dill Looks To Put Stamp On Colo./Wyoming League

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Approaching the two-year mark as CEO of the Colorado and Wyoming Credit Union System, John Dill believes the pieces are in place to build the best state CU association in the country.

After stepping into what he called the "big shoes" of former Colorado league CEO Carroll Beach, who retired and is now with Credit Union Service Centers, Dill said he has been working to reassess every component of the operation, including the league service corps, Colleague, which he described as an attic in need of cleaning. The goal, he said, is to unify the movement in the two states served by the association while providing great support services.

While Dill is relatively new to credit unions, he is a veteran in advocacy, having long been active in politics and government, and working on Capitol Hill for a decade as a lobbyist for the National Retail Federation. He served as legislative director for former Rep. James Jones (D-OK), and was chief counsel for the House Budget Committee for a time.

Cleaning Out The Attic

In cleaning Colleague's attic, Dill said a number of products have been "recalibrated." It has dropped a pet insurance product, and also partnered with the Illinois league's service corp. for card services. It is also in the process of adding a "Rainbow Rewards" credit card affinity program that pays rewards directly into members' accounts.

"We think it has the potential to be a great program," Dill said, adding that overall, decisions have been guided by "not does it make money, but is it something credit unions NEED."

Karen Morgan has been hired to run Colleague, replacing Doug Burke who left to join CUSN, having previously run a CUSO in the northern part of the state. It also expects to expand its mortgage presence.

A member of three different credit unions during his life, Dill joined the Colorado league just as its longtime lobbyist was departing. He has been replaced by Pete Kirchoff, formerly of Denver-based Qwest. Almost immediately, said Dill, the association was able to steer two bills through the legislature that were of importance to credit unions. Both were signed by the governor.

Given his career, legislative advocacy is one of Dill's strengths, and the association has hired its first grassroots coordinator. "The strength of credit unions is not our money but our people," he observed.

Dill has also hired Grace Stanton as senior VP-marketing and communications, who had run a Colorado-based PR firm with clients that included Kraft and IBM. Stanton will help guide a branding campaign that is now being developed for Colorado and Wyoming (the Colorado System has a management contract with Wyoming's credit unions) and is overseeing a branding task force. Stanton has already overseen the placement of 90 15-second TV spots that urged credit union membership. While the message has yet to be finalized, and it has not yet begun seeking the funding, Dill said the goal is clear: "We want to drive marketshare to credit unions. We want to see if we can move the needle. But, candidly, we do not know whether we will be able to pay for stage two."

He noted that several years ago credit unions in the two states OK'd a dues increase in order to underwrite greater governmental affairs work and a branding campaign. The branding never happened. "In retrospect, that was a mistake," he said. Plans call for unveiling the new branding at its annual meeting this month.

In terms of providing better services, the CCUS has hired Dan Santangelo, who has worked to double the number of field reps the association has as it seeks to better reach out to small and medium-sized CUs. It has also added a new general counsel and its first executive director of its foundation.

The separate demands of large and small credit unions is something Dill said he has seen before during his days with the National Retail Federation, which served brand name department stores along with the mom-and-pop shops.

"The large credit unions want government affairs," he noted. "The smaller credit unions want things they can use on a day-to-day basis to be successful. But there are also a lot of similarities in credit unions. The truth is we all need each other and more often than not we're on the same court."

When it comes to the banking industry, Dill said he doesn't agree so much that banks are a "common enemy" as they are a common threat. "If the issues they tried to raise weren't so preposterous it would be funny," he said of the bankers.

Colorado is as close to the bank-credit union fight as any state, as the banking industry has challenged fields of membership of CUs in Colorado. At the same time, Dill said credit unions have been able to work with the state bankers association on areas where there is common ground. "It's an uneasy alliance," he observed. "If they swing at us we are ready to swing right back with a KO punch."

Back on the service corp side, Dill said a CUSO that is focusing on IT and HR issues has attracted 18 investors in less than one year. "Those are areas where we can help," he said.

As for the league side, he agreed Colorado feels the same budget pinch as other states as the number of credit unions decline, but he does believe it will reach a point where the numbers flatten.

But given his background, it's perhaps not surprising Dill is most conversant in politics. He said credit unions have been able to build a good relationship with Rep. Bob Dupre, who won by just 121 votes in the last election and knows credit unions can deliver local advocacy.

Dupre, a former banker, has been 100% supportive of CUs, said Dill, who noted he will need credit union support again as he runs for governor. Dill is on Dupre's election finance committee. A bipartisan volunteer, Dill is also on the election finance committee of Rep. Ed Permutter.

Name Change In The Works

Dill is overseeing one other likely change: to the name and logo of the Colorado Credit Union System. The logo reflects the presence of the Corporate (SunCorp), which became a freestanding entity years ago. Dill said he believes the word "league" also does not explain what it does to constituencies that aren't going to take time to figure it out.

"It's a lot of work to explain to a legislator what the 'league' is," said Dill. "It's a waste of 30 seconds. If you say the Credit Union Association of Colorado or the Credit Union Association of Wyoming, it's understood what you are."

Plans are also to put before the membership a bylaw change that would allow out-of-state-based credit unions to join the league, with dues prorated according to the number of members the CU has in Colorado or Wyoming, and the associated voting rights. "We want to give them a way to be a part of the family, so to speak," he said. "We've vetted the issue with focus groups and gotten a good reaction."

Regardless of the name or the geography of the membership, Dill said, "I want to build the best league in the country" serving credit unions in both states (Dill said he spends about 20% of his time on Wyoming's credit unions, reflective of the numbers compared to Colorado).

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